Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman Essay Questions

  1. 1

    Discuss the importance of Jean Louise’s flashbacks to childhood. Choose two or more.

    The three main flashbacks to Jean Louise’s childhood are 1) the revival service, 2) the water tower suicide attempt, and 3) the first high school dance. Each of these situations are sources of “outrage,” that is, they act as catalysts for empathetic understanding. Furthermore, Jean Louise’s memories of these flashbacks are bound to be conveyed with more mature insight and nuanced narration. These are important, also, because they establish the importance of Maycomb and its relevant characters in Jean Louise’s life. Specifically, the answer may wish to discuss in 1) Atticus’s calm demeanor in reaction to the reverend, 2) Jean Louise’s adamant attitude and value of dignity as well as Calpurnia’s mothering, and 3) Henry’s start on the career path to law, as well as issues of legality, morality, and writing.

  2. 2

    Analyze Uncle Jack’s roundabout speeches to Jean Louise. What are his main points? What is his thesis? Does his argument work?

    Uncle Jack’s ultimate point is that Jean Louise is “still two people”—her budding self and her old self which identifies with her father. He believes this needs to change. He supports this thesis with historical and present-day social evidence. His historical evidence has to do with individuality as a value in the American South (as seen through the Civil War), and a disturbing homogeneity in Maycomb (as seen through the fact that people are almost all completely related).

  3. 3

    What is the importance of individuality and identity in Go Set a Watchman?

    Individuality and identity are essential to both the setting and the characters of Go Set a Watchman. Individuality is what Jean Louise so desperately needs to have as she separates her conscience from her father’s. This is mirrored by the “birthing pains” of the American South as it recalls its strong history of states’ rights and individuality, but moves forward into an era of federalism and racial/social equality.

  4. 4

    Explain the title of the novel.

    Whereas Mr. Stone delivers without explanation the verse from Isaiah from which the book derives its title, Uncle Jack explains to Jean Louise that “each man’s watchman is his conscience.” Therefore, what the watchman “seeth” is what each man chooses to believe and glean from his external world. He explains that there is no collective conscious—instead, each man and woman has to go out and reconcile his or her viewpoints with the people around them. In effect, throughout the novel, Jean Louise has been setting her own watchman, as she detaches herself from her father’s conscience, and constructs her own.

  5. 5

    Why does Calpurnia receive Jean Louise the way she does? Is it expected? Appropriate? Does it “work” in terms of the narrative?

    Calpurnia receives Jean Louise coldly, and while it is shocking given the important and nurturing role she played in Jean Louise’s life, it does not come as a total surprise. For one, time has passed and taken its toll on the Maycomb community; Calpurnia has already moved out and into the influence of her black family and neighbors. Furthermore, the presence of the NAACP, the law, and Atticus’s motives for taking her grandson’s case float over them and haunt the two women.

  6. 6

    Why does Atticus say, “I’ve killed you, Scout. I had to” (252)? What does that mean?

    At the end of their argument, Atticus says that he has “killed Scout,” which enrages his daughter and leads her to accuse him of “double-talk,” or confusing language. What Atticus means, however, is that both father and daughter had to reduce each other to rubble in order to reconstruct themselves as real humans. Jean Louise had to deconstruct her old self that was based on Atticus to reconstruct herself as Jean Louise. Atticus’s image had to be destroyed by Jean Louise so that she could reconstruct him as a man, and not as a god.

  7. 7

    What are some of the symbols that track Jean Louise’s transition from solid bigotry to more acceptance? Pick at least two.

    Symbols include Jean Louise’s usage of cars and her constant discussion of the material of stone. At first, Jean is against the new technology of cars; she constantly bumps into them (by accident). Yet by the end she has learned to be more careful in her words and in her actions, and so she carefully avoids bumping her head as she gets in the car.

    The idea of the hardness of stone is also prevalent throughout the book. Jean Louise compares herself to “drying up as a stone,” and “stone blind,” until she stops using these metaphors and analogies, and admits to Uncle Jack that she is now able to tolerate, softly, the differing viewpoints of others.

  8. 8

    Why does Jean Louise ultimately decline to marry Henry Clinton?

    Jean Louise ultimately decides not to marry Henry Clinton even though she loves him as one of her oldest friends. She comes to this decision because of two major reasons: one, that he is “not her type” and she is afraid that she will marry him without really being “in love with” him; and two, that marrying him will lead to a stifling of her identity, individuality, and independence. She also cannot agree with his views on the Citizens’ Council, even though she has softened by the end, realizing that he comes from a different background from her and must work in certain ways to get where he needs to be in life.

  9. 9

    Discuss the importance of Jean Louise not having a biological mother.

    Not having a biological mother affects both Jean Louise as a person and a woman, as well as the relationships in her life. For one, Jean Louise grows up as a tomboy, used to playing rough with boys. Even as an adult, she does not embrace the Southern traditions of being “ladylike.” Furthermore, she is then left to be raised by, as she says, “a black woman and a white man” (179). In Calpurnia’s arms, she is vulnerable, almost a daughter, learning from a woman. In Atticus’s footsteps, she is worshiping her father like a god, and trusting everything he says until she realizes that she must disagree. This disagreement leads to the painful tensions in this present novel’s storyline.

  10. 10

    What is the importance and relevance of Atticus’s profession as a lawyer?

    Atticus’s occupation as a lawyer, and thus concern with legality and legal “rightfulness,” shadows and colors everything in this book. Jean Louise, who worships Atticus and his decisions, learns that legality and morality are not necessarily aligned. The idea of truth—and the lawyer’s concern with it—are also extremely important. Jean Louise realizes, just as she condemned her old principal for thinking that writing down something led to both legality and truth (218), that justice and truth do not have to be the same (248-249). She must learn to understand what she perceives as truth, and reconcile this with the truths others around her hold as self-evident. Because Atticus is a lawyer who cares so much about truth, his young daughter took his word almost like the Biblical Word, even citing his famous maxim, “Equal rights for all, special privileges for none” (108). When she realizes that general morality transcends human legality, she must demote him to the level of a human being in her eyes, and grow from this.